Former President Jimmy Carter and nine other Nobel Peace Prize winners this week called upon President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to “do the right thing” and “reject” the Keystone XL Pipeline. The Nobel Laureates’ open letter, published in Politico, is worth reading because it epitomizes the intellectual poverty of the anti-Keystone faction.
Asserting that Obama and Kerry’s stand on Keystone XL will “define” their “legacy” on climate change, the Nobels claim that rejection of the pipeline would (1) “have meaningful and significant impacts in reducing carbon pollution,” (2) “pivot our societies away from fossil fuels and towards smarter, safer and cleaner energy,” and (3) “signal a new course for the world’s largest economy.” Wrong on all counts.
As Cato Institute scientist Chip Knappenberger shows, using an EPA climate model, even under the totally unrealistic scenario that all Keystone crude is additional petroleum that would otherwise not be extracted from Canada’s oil sands, running the pipeline at full capacity for 1,000 years would add less than 1/10th of a degree Celsius to global warming. Climatologically, Keystone XL is irrelevant.
The Nobels might reply that the pipeline’s emissions are not the issue. According to them, Keystone XL is the “linchpin for tar sands [oil] expansion,” hence approving the pipeline would commit the world to a “dangerous” development path while rejecting it would move the world towards a new, cleaner path. Okay, time for a restatement of the obvious.
The U.S. economy is in the midst of a revolution in unconventional oil and gas, and the global appetite for oil and gas is growing by leaps and bounds. These trends are determined by basic economic and technological realities, not by a political decision about one infrastructure project. The Nobels’ conceit that Keystone XL is a “pivot” for the global economy and, thus, for the climate system is a reversion to the magical thinking of children.
The Nobels assert that, “The myth that tar sands development is inevitable and will find its way to market by rail if not pipeline is a red herring.” But alternate delivery via rail is not a myth, it’s a massive and growing reality. Maybe before writing to Secy. Kerry, the Nobels should read the State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) on Keystone XL, especially Chapter 4: Market Analysis.
As in the 2011 Final EIS and 2013 Draft Supplemental EIS, State again concludes that “the proposed Project is unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas (based on expected oil prices, oil-sands supply costs, transport costs, and supply-demand scenario).” A big difference, though, is that whereas the 2011 and 2013 reports “discussed the transportation of Canadian crude by rail as a future possibility,” the FSEIS “notes that the transportation of Canadian crude by rail is already occurring in substantial volumes.” Indeed, from January 2011 through November 2013, rail transport of Canadian crude to U.S. refineries increased from practically zero barrels per day (bpd) to 180,000 bpd.
The completed Keystone XL Pipeline is estimated to have a capacity to deliver 830,000 bpd of crude oil. According to the FSEIS, rail-loading facilities in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) are already “estimated to have a capacity of approximately 700,000 bpd of crude oil, and by the end of 2014, this will likely increase to more than 1.1 million bpd.”
A “red herring” is an irrelevancy that diverts attention from the real issue. Look at the maps below comparing rail infrastructure for oil delivery in Dec. 2010 and Dec. 2013. Do you see a distracting irrelevancy, or visible proof that rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline would not affect the basic economics of North American energy development?
Predictably, the Nobels have no conception of unintended consequences. As noted previously on this blog, the FSEIS finds that Keystone XL will actually reduce net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with U.S. refining of Canadian crude. If permission to build Keystone XL is denied, U.S. refiners will still import roughly the same quantity of Canadian oil, they’ll just get it by less efficient modes of delivery: rail, barge, and smaller pipelines. Total annual emissions associated with those alternative modes are 28% to 42% higher than those associated with Keystone XL.
So the Nobels get everything wrong:
- The Keystone XL pipeline is climatologically irrelevant, not some make-or-break pivot or linchpin in the development of Canada’s oil resources.
- The real red herring is the bogus climate crisis, which diverts public attention from Keystone XL’s manifest benefits: an estimated 42,100 new jobs and $2.3 billion in additional GDP during the 2-year construction period, enhanced integration and efficiency of North American energy markets, stronger (rather than strained) U.S.-Canadian relations, and — compared to alternate delivery modes — fewer oil spills and fewer accidents.
- Rejection of the pipeline would not “have meaningful and significant impacts in reducing carbon pollution” but would instead increase transport by other modes that are more carbon intensive than Keystone XL.
What explains the foolishness of the Nobel Laureates’ letter? Much of it surely is ideologically driven. As some wit once observed, “When climate change enters the room, rational thought goes out the window.”
But the Nobel Peace Prize likely is also a factor, an inducement to sloppy thinking for persons already prone to the malady. When others continually praise you as the conscience of humanity, you may come to assume that the only ‘facts’ you need consult are your own feelings.
And let’s face it, a very strong feeling among many ‘progressive’ celebrities is hatred of oil and oil companies. Yes, that is thoroughly hypocritical, since the lifestyles of Nobel Laureates like Al Gore and Jimmy Carter and anti-Keystone crusaders like Bill McKibben are among the most oil-fueled in the world. If even they need oil, then ordinary folks do too. And since oil is an essential commodity, it should be brought to market by the safest and most efficient means: pipelines.
The Nobel Laureates can’t wrap their heads around that simple logic, much less the economic, technological, and climatological realities rendering their alarms both false and silly. Has hatred blinded — or stupefied — these spokespersons for peace?